It was nearly a year ago.
Knowing so many close friends and family members that have been impacted by various forms of cancer, the first-year pro was excited to put the pink sweater on, play on the pink ice, and hopefully, beat the Bakersfield Condors and earn his third pro victory of the season.
An awkward save at the end of an otherwise flawless period of play from Gillies would be the last one Heat fans would see the goaltender make.
“I didn’t think too much about it at the time, I thought about it when I couldn’t lift my leg,” Gillies said of his injury. “I’d always had pain with it but not to that extent. I skated everyday for the next two-and-a-half weeks and kept trying but it never got any better. There really wasn’t much worse it could get so a decision came down and I did what I was told.”
Gillies had suffered from chronic hip pain for years, and even with that awkward save, he never thought he’d be done for the year, go under the knife and miss his true rookie campaign. That wasn’t going to be the story that an NCAA Champion goaltender imagined for his first pro season.
But it was.
“That never crossed my mind,” Gillies said of if he’d made his last save of the 2015-16 season with his ninth of the first period on November 6. “I think that for me at least I’ve always played through things and in college, there were more times than one I sat in an MRI machine at lunch, had a Subway sub, and played a game that night. I’m used to playing through pain, that’s what I’ve always done and what I always want to do because I never want to sit out. I would’ve kept playing but I was held off and looking back it was for the best.”
After a few long weeks that saw Jon skate everyday, battle through the pain and try and get better the decision came down that his season would be over. On December 3, 2015, Flames General Manager Brad Treliving announced to the press in Calgary that Jon Gillies would undergo hip surgery.
Fast-forward to 2016-17 and Gillies has picked right back up where he left off. He’s been the workhorse for the Heat once again and will most certainly be seeing action this weekend for Hot Pink 2 on Friday and Saturday night. However his injury nearly a calendar year ago will not be on his mind when he takes to the Stockton Arena ice.
“It’s obviously been a long year and I’m going to try to make it through the first period and go from there but a lot has happened and it’s just been a one-day at a time process,” Gillies said. “I don’t rush things and don’t want to get frustrated because it is a process and something I wasn’t used to going through because I hadn’t been injured before. However, I learned a lot of things during that time and I’ll apply those things this year, stay healthy and stay on the ice.”
Which is what he’s done so far. A 3-1-1 record as he restarts his rookie season with a 3.17 goals-against-average and a .900 save-percentage has certainly been a big factor as to how the Heat have started the year, ranking among the top teams in the Western Conference. He’s played 302 minutes which puts him among the Top 10 in the AHL in minutes played, with goalies who’ve played one or two more games ahead of him. However, Gillies recognizes that this may not have been the case if it weren’t for the people surrounding him during, what has been, a rough calendar year.
“For me I trusted the medical staff around me, Kent Kobelka, Kevin Wagner and Ryan Van Asten in Calgary were great during my recovery, Kevin especially,” Gillies said. “He was with me nearly every single day and flew to Nashville for my surgery and my check ups. They were all unbelievable at getting me back on the ice and getting healthy and I can’t thank them enough for that. After the decision was made to shut me down, I think that’s when things got a little easier and the path got clearer and it was easier to manage because there was a precedent and a process that was already in place.”
So with the anniversary of an injury that cost him a year of playing professional hockey approaching in mere days, and the signature event that means a lot to him personally coming up tomorrow and Saturday, emotions can be high when Gillies steps foot on the ice.
But emotions will be in check come Friday night.
“I don’t think too much about the past when it comes to hockey,” Gillies said. “If you dwell on things like that then you aren’t focused on the present and the game at hand, so I just go with the flow and try to take it one day at a time.”